Arts and Culture

Tim Heidecker on Bedtime Stories and touring with Dr. Steve Brule

Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim are enfants terrible whose rhythm, aesthetic and sensibilities have informed everything from cinema to sketch comedy and deodorant advertising in the years since Tom Goes to the Mayor debuted on Adult Swim nearly a decade ago. Gallows humor abounds in their new series, Tim and Eric's Bedtime Stories, a hilariously macabre horror-comedy anthology that makes its Adult Swim debut on Thursday, September 18. The show is a huge step forward for the duo, who've mounted their second national live tour in preparation for the premiere. What sets this tour apart from their last is the inclusion of Dr. Steve Brule on the lineup. Played by character actor John C. Reilly, who relishes each awkward syllable in the role of a profoundly unsettling physician offering dubious advice, Brule first appeared in interstitial segments on Awesome Show and then spun off into his own series, Check it out with Dr. Steve Brule. To find out more about the live show and to discuss the finer points of Bedtime Stories, Westword caught up with Heidecker before he headed to Denver for the Tim and Eric & Dr. Steve Brule show at the Paramount on September 15.

See also: Eugene Cordero on Drunk History, Andy Juett and the High Plains Comedy Festival

Westword: So, you've been on the Tim, Eric & Brule tour for a couple weeks now. How have the shows gone so far?

Tim Heidecker: They've been great. Sold-out, psyched audiences. They're fun shows for us to do. We're just warming up to it a little bit, but it's been going great.

What's the format of the show like? How is Dr. Brule incorporated into the act?

Steve Brule has his own set. It's sort of a one-man show, TED talk-like experience. Then Tim and Eric come out and we do some sketches and songs and craziness. Then Steve has his set and it all comes together at the end. It's produced, planned stupidity.

So it doesn't vary much from night to night, then? You have it all mapped out?

It's pretty consistent. The past few days we've been tinkering with it, cutting stuff, adding stuff, playing around with it. The idea is that it'll be more or less the same show.

So does this tour have an explicit connection to Bedtime Stories, or is it more of an implied promotion?

It's an implied promotion. We are screening an episode that hasn't aired yet. It's a way to let people see the episode before everybody else. We talk about the show a little bit. There's nothing from the show that we do live.

I watched the two episodes your publicist sent out. Which episode are you screening?

"Toes." That's a fun one to hear people react to; right when the first toe gets cut off, they're like "Whoa!"

I'm a big Blood Simple fan, so it was cool to see M. Emmet Walsh show up.

Oh, cool. Yeah, he was a real treat to work with.

How does that process work? I guess you guys are established enough to get the guest stars you want, but your show is still pretty weird for an actor to participate in.

Yeah, I suppose. You know, I think that most of these people are working actors and then they get an offer -- and our producers are great at contextualizing everything and making them feel like it was worth their time -- and like you said, he's [Walsh] a guy who'd appeared in weird, dark stuff before, so I think part of that appealed to him. But yeah, we're so glad; it's one of those things where we'd suggested him as an idea, not thinking he'd do it, but to give our casting director some direction.

To look for an M. Emmet Walsh type?

Exactly. Not knowing that he's still around to do the work; I thought that he might be retired or you know, like retired, if you know what I mean. So, yeah, that was really exciting.

Is "Toes" the only episode that you and Eric don't appear in?

Yes, that was the one episode that we just took ourselves out of completely.

So, Bedtime Stories is a huge visual departure from your previous shows. It's much more cinematic and sustains the same narrative for an entire episode. What made you guys decide to move away from the style and aesthetic that's been duplicated in ads and music videos?

Well, precisely for the reason that you might have noticed. We never were interested in repeating ourselves or doing something because we felt like people expected it from us. We're guys who went to film school and love great films. We are interested in making things look great when they should look great. When that's what the idea deserves. We felt like with this idea for a show; we needed it to look pretty good in order to lull you into the nightmares that we're creating. It needs to be something that you can really get engaged in, so it wouldn't work so well for it to look sort of crappy. All of our quote-unquote crappy-looking stuff has been part of what made it work for people.

There's a rhythm to the editing that's unique, though. Awesome Show had that cable-access look, but so much of the comic timing came through in the erratic way the show cut together. That technique has been so influential and so widely ripped off that I could see why you'd want to move away from it.

Yeah, our attitude is that we've already done that; that we've taken that in every direction that we can --for now. But at the same time, I don't think there's any confusion in who's making this new show. Even in the episodes we're not in, it's still very much our voice. We're not just about low-fi, there's more there than style. That's exciting for us.

I don't know if this is just the two episodes that you sent out, but it seems like there's a theme about the sinister undertones of people's polite interactions, like the football party in the first episode.

Yeah, totally.

So I read something about how the idea for this show was influenced by the Twilight Zone. Were there any other influences on the format or the content of the show?

The Twilight Zone was helpful just to help people think of how the show would work. It was easier to say, "We're going to do an anthology show like the Twilight Zone." Different stories, different actors, but the same tone -- or not necessarily the same tone, but the same vibe. There's this other show out of England called Black Mirror that airs over there but you can find through sort of illegal means here; when we saw it we thought, "Oh, cool, those guys are thinking the same thing we're thinking. Which is, don't always necessarily go for the laughs. Tell a story that's got something to say, use satire, make stuff look good, make it feel real and grounded. I think Louie's doing that, too, so it was kind of influential to see that people were game for that.

It's interesting how the line between comedy and horror could be so flexible.

Yeah. Well, there's a lot of people who aren't going to think that's funny. But I think our audience recognizes the absurdity of stuff. Is cutting off toes that far removed from liposuction? Where do we draw the line with what we're doing to our bodies? It's horrible, but to me, the absurdity of the way we think of our bodies is funny to me and Eric and the people I know and like. I think a lot of people relate to that. On the other hand, if they watch the show and they're just horrified and disgusted, well, that's just another way to be entertained.

Tima and Eric & Dr. Steve Brule will be at the Paramount Theatre on Monday, September 15. Doors open at 7 p.m. for the 8 p.m. show. Ticket prices start at $37.50 and include downtown parking; get them at Altitude tickets.

Follow Byron Graham on twitter @ByronFG for more mildly amusing sequences of words.

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Byron Graham is a writer, comedian and gentleman thief from Denver. Co-host of Designated Drunkard: A Comedy Drinking Game, the deathless Lion's Lair open mic and the Mutiny Book Club podcast, Byron also writes about comedy for Westword. He cannot abide cowardice, and he's never been defeated in an open duel.
Contact: Byron Graham